Saturday 31 December 2022

2022 My Reading Year in Review

I've done a lot more non-fiction reading the past few years, so the number of books I finished is smaller than I'd like, though I did read some fantastic books. I only managed 28 books, 15 of which were history or history adjacent (like a cookbook and a book on gardens). For SF/F/H I read 13, only 1 science fiction and 12 various fantasy (6 general fantasy, 3 urban fantasy and 3 historical fantasy).

The books I enjoyed the most were for fiction:

The City of Dark by Tara Sim (my review)

Nettle and Bone by T. Kingfisher (my review)

Lost in the Moment and Found by Seanan McGuire (Comes out in Jan, 2023 so my review isn't posted yet.)

For non-fiction:

The Fabric of Civilization by Virginia Postrel (my review)

The Rose Window by Painton Cowen (I didn’t end up reviewing this for my blog (sometimes I just want to enjoy books without breaking them down). Though it came out in the 70s, it has some great information about the possible origins of Cathedral rose windows and gave me a few churches to check out during my recent trip to France.)

I'm still fully into non-fiction books, so I expect my reading numbers next year will be similar to this year's. I'm hoping to take a trip to Italy, so I'll be deep diving into more Italian history and medieval primary sources (I'm slowly making my way through the Decameron). I'm also hoping to put up more photos from France but that will depend on time as I have a lot of touch-up work on those to do. I'm torn between trying to finish France stuff while also looking towards prepping for Italy.

I hope you've all had a great year. Hopefully 2023 will be a fantastic year, with less war and illness. 

Thursday 29 December 2022

Books Received in November and December 2022

Many thanks to the publishers who sent me books to review the last 2 months. 

Camp Zero by Michelle Min Sterling - Set in Canada, it sounds pretty interesting.

In a near-future northern settlement, a handful of climate change survivors find their fates intertwined in this mesmerizing and transportive novel in the vein of Station Eleven and The Power.

America, 2049: Summer temperatures are intolerably high, the fossil fuel industry has shut down, and humans are implanted with a ‘Flick’ at birth, which allows them to remain perpetually online. The top echelons of society live in Floating Cities off the coast, while people on the mainland struggle to survive. For Rose, working as a hostess in the city’s elite club feels like her best hope for a better future.

When a high-profile client offers Rose a job as an escort at an American building project in northern Canada called Camp Zero, in return for a home for her displaced mother and herself, she accepts it. But her real assignment is to secretly monitor the mercurial architect in charge.

Rose quickly secures the trust of her target; but in the north, she begins to sense a new way forward, and her objective shifts. Through skillfully entwined perspectives including a young professor longing to escape his wealthy family, and the collective voice of an all-female US military brigade at a climate research station, the fate of the Camp and its select inhabitants comes into stunning relief. Atmospheric, original, and utterly gripping, Camp Zero interrogates the seductive and chilling notion of a utopia; asks who and what will survive as global tensions rise; and imagines how love may sustain us.
Culinary Travels by Emily Szajda - This is a fun cookbook with recipes from around Europe. I've reviewed it here

A map of flavors, aromas and evocations from across the European continent and beyond, Emily Szajda takes you on a culinary journey traversing borders. In this narrative cookbook, you will encounter healthy adaptations of traditional recipes from her travels and life abroad along with stories and takeaways on how food, the simple act of breaking bread, creates an experience. It has the power to tear down walls and create a space for conversation, understanding, and memory. Awaken your senses and relish the moment. From an afternoon tea with fresh baked scones and clotted cream at the St. James Hotel in London to a plate of delectable truffled risotto with osso bucco in Rome, food is not merely sustenance, a part of the human existence but an act of love and fellowship. Please be my guest. Learn how to have a soulful, interactive relationship with food that not only fills your belly but your heart and mind. Take time. Pull up a seat at my table. Let's eat!

Dragonfall by L. R. Lam - I haven't read a good dragon fantasy novel in ages. Really looking forward to this one. Out in May 2023.

Long-banished dragons, revered as gods, return to the mortal realm in the first in this magical new epic fantasy trilogy from a bestselling author

Long ago, humans betrayed dragons, stealing their magic and banishing them to a dying world. Centuries later, their descendants worship dragons as gods. But the "gods" remember, and they do not forgive.

Thief Arcady scrapes a living on the streets of Vatra. Desperate, Arcady steals a powerful artifact from the bones of the Plaguebringer, the most hated person in Lumet history. Only Arcady knows the artifact's magic holds the key to a new life among the nobles at court and a chance for revenge.

The spell connects to Everen, the last male dragon foretold to save his kind, dragging him through the Veil. Disguised as a human, Everen soon learns that to regain his true power and form and fulfil his destiny, he only needs to convince one little thief to trust him enough to bond completely--body, mind, and soul--and then kill them.

Yet the closer the two become, the greater the risk both their worlds will shatter.

Tuesday 20 December 2022

Cookbook Review: Culinary Travels: Memories Made at the Table by Emily Szajda

I've something different for the blog today, a cookbook review. There seem to be a few standard meals in fantasy novels: stew at inns and feasts for nobles. We sometimes forget the sheer variety of food available around the world and the cleverness of humans in preparing similar ingredients in different ways. This cookbook shares recipes from around Europe and shows that even cultures that are geographically close can have widely varying menus.

There’s no table of contents. The book starts with a brief introductory prologue. Each chapter deals with a specific country/region and begins with a little introduction. The chapters are: Germany, Austria, & Switzerland (11 recipes, including 2 deserts and a drink); Italy (14); England & Ireland (9); France (12); Belgium (9); Spain (10); and Poland (12).

The chapters vary in number of recipes as well as their variety. The book as a whole includes quite a few seafood recipes, a few meat recipes, a decent number of vegetarian recipes, and deserts from each region. It includes well known regional specialties (Belgian waffles, pierogi, French onion soup) as well as less familiar options. There’s also a good mix of simple recipes to more complex fare.

Each recipe is accompanied by a photograph, mostly of the finished dish though a few have photos at a later stage in the cooking process.

I made two recipes, tortilla Española (sweet potato omlet) and surówka z marchewki z jabłkiem (carrot salad with apples). The instructions were easy to follow and both tasted very good (I did half yellow and half sweet potatoes for the tortilla).

The chapter introductions often mention the importance of slowing down in life and travel to experience the moment and really savour your food. Always a useful reminder.

It’s a nice cookbook with a good variety of recipes from around Europe.

Tuesday 13 December 2022

Video: The Roots of Magic Signs

Last month I stumbled across a kickstarter campaign to make a sourcebook for magic signs (sigils, etc). The author has done a couple of youtube videos on the topic, including the one below. I find magic a fascinating topic. So much time and effort has gone into carving amulets and blessing or curse tablets, praying to or trying to manipulate higher powers for aid, creating formulas, symbols, potions, etc. It's also interesting how older traditions got folded into religions.

Tuesday 6 December 2022

Book Review: Babel by R. F. Kuang

Pros: thought provoking, great characters, fascinating discussions

Cons: ending gets brutal, tension drags on

When Robin is saved from cholera in Canton and brought to England his life becomes one of study and languages. He’s sent to Oxford’s translation department, where silver bars are inscribed with words that - like magic - power much of Britain’s modernization. The others in his program have also suffered to be a part of it. But they realize their successes are designed to only benefit the British Empire, not the homelands they were torn from and whose languages the silverworking magic is based on.

This is a brilliant book. I found the frequent etymological breakdown of words and the discussions on translation fascinating. The author did an excellent job of showing the fallacies of colonialist thought. It was such a thought provoking story.

The characters were all well fleshed out. Robin is such a conflicted character, not fitting into white society but also no longer Chinese. Told to feel grateful for the opportunities he’s been given but aware that he’s been given no choice regarding his future. I loved Ramy and Victoire and their perspectives on things. I wasn’t as keen on Letty, but she was still an interesting character. I appreciated that we get to see interludes from their perspectives, giving more information about their backgrounds and allowing us to see what led to their convictions.

Towards the end of the book the tension ramps up. It stays high so long though that I found myself needing a break from the book. There is a section of the book towards the end that gets quite brutal, with a lot of people dying in quick succession. It’s not overly graphic, though there is a torture scene. The book also contains period accurate slurs which may be distressing to read.

The book has footnotes, which is great as they give some authorial asides and additional information that’s not essential for the story but fun nonetheless. They also make the book feel more scholarly. They are marked by as star (*) after the text. Clicking the mark is supposed to hyperlink you to the explanatory note at the back of the book. Unfortunately, the first time I tried this is just turned the page, so I didn’t realize it worked (I guess you have to be very careful to hit the star). I ended up using bookmarks to flip between them, but the footnotes aren’t numbered, so I had to be careful to check each one and move my bookmarks so I didn’t lose my place in the 100+ pages of footnotes.

If you like languages and alternate history, though brutal at times, this is a brilliant read you’ll be thinking of for some time after you close the book.

Saturday 3 December 2022

Topaz Sharpen AI Thoughts

I recently came back from a research trip to France. I took... tens of thousands of photographs using a 10+ year old camera. It's focusing ability wasn't as good as it used to be, nor are my eyes or my ability to hold it super steady. So taking photos in low light cathedral interiors and museums means I came home with a larger than I'd like number of blurry photos. :(

So I was intrigued when I saw an ad for Topaz Sharpen AI. The reviews I saw for the program were pretty impressive and it turned out my husband had used some of their products in the past. So I got their free trial download (it's the full program that puts a watermark in the centre of test photos) and tested it. I was impressed enough that I bought it, and the Denoise AI program during their black friday/cyber monday sale.

I don't know enough about other similar editing programs, and I've only been playing with it for a few days, so this isn't a review. It's just some observations of how well the software has worked with the photos I've tried it on.

To start, the successes. The software gives 3 levels of sharpening: motion (camera shake or subject movement), out of focus, and softness. Photos that are just slightly blurry with clear lines are the easiest to fix. Here's an example of stained glass (I didn't choose the entire frame, so the section on the left didn't get sharpening), and a Virgin & Child statue. (Click on any image to scroll through larger versions of all the photos.)

Blurry original stained glass.
Sharpened stained glass of Salome dancing before Herod.

Blurry Virgin & Child

Sharpened Virgin & Child

The photo that sold me on the program though, was this one. I had to go very heavy on the anti-blur as I otherwise ended up with Mary having extra ghost fingers, but I'm very happy with how this one turned out. I also ran it through Denoise AI to make it look even better. I did find that their combined 'Photo AI' didn't do as good a job with this photo as the individual programs. I guess trying to de-noise & sharpen in the order Photo AI uses didn't seem to jive with this specific example. I couldn't get rid of the ghost fingers no matter what I tried. I love medieval ivories, so fixing this photo was amazing.

Original ivory of the Annunciation

Sharpened & de-noised ivory of the Annunciation

As a historian I need to warn that with some fixes important detail is lost. So the photos can no longer be used as pure representations of the original (as much as a photo can in the first place). For example, I was able to make the following 2 photos usable from a general standpoint, but if you zoom in you can see that the detail isn't there. In the cathedral facade's sharpened image, you can see that the trefoils at the top still have some ghost effects showing the blur.

Original light show on the west facade of Amiens cathedral. 

Sharpened west facade of Amiens.

Crop showing a lack of detail (though, part of this is also due to the light show, which created a shadow on the figures).
Original photo of prayer bead with Virgin & Child.

Sharpened prayer bead.

Zoomed in image of sharpened prayer bead. 

You can clearly see how the program smeared the faces in the zoomed in prayer bead. I kind of like how the queen below Mary has become more skeletal, but this no longer reflects the true detail of the bead.

If there's too much blur the program is unable to fix it at all. I had a few failures and a few photos that turned out better than the originals, but still not usable.

It's always best to get a properly focused and sharp image in camera. But if you can't, this program does a shockingly good job on making slightly blurry photos usable. Is it worth it for you? Try out the software first. I'm just stoked that I can save some of my trip photos. :)

Tuesday 29 November 2022

Book Review: Between Two Fires by Christopher Buehlman

Pros: has a degree of historical accuracy, interestingly flawed characters, horrifying monsters

Cons: uses slurs, some disturbing scenes

The black death rages across France as demons test God’s concern for the earth. A disgraced knight saves a young girl from his companions and, against his will, agrees to accompany her to Paris and Avignon. He quickly realizes there’s something special about her, but is she a saint or a witch?

The book is set in a historical place and time that was clearly well researched (with some good acknowledgements in the back). The author weaves in some horrifying monsters and clearly inaccurate fantasy elements that fit the medieval mindset.

The are rich descriptions of setting that allow you to vividly picture the action. Given some of the monsters this isn’t always a positive.

Thomas is a great character. He’s flawed in several ways but grows as he travels with the girl.

One main side character is gay and they encounter Jews a time or two. Be aware that several slurs are used in the text when discussing these groups that fit the time and place, but may be distressing to read. There's also the threat of sexual violence several times.

It’s a brutal look at the middle ages with some horror elements added regarding Biblically accurate angels and demons. It’s a difficult read at times, so not for everyone.

Tuesday 22 November 2022

TV Review: W: Two Worlds Apart

Pros: fun romance, interesting characters, great concept

Cons: some disturbing content (suicide, torture)

Oh Yeon-joo is pulled into her father’s bestselling comic book series, “W”, and saves the hero, Kang Cheol’s life. Pulled between the two worlds, she falls in love with Kang and tries to shift the comic from being an action adventure to a romance story.

This is a Korean drama that aired in 2016, starring Lee Jong-Suk and Han Hyo-joo. IMDb listing.

Hard to find in North America as it’s no longer on Netflix here, I was lucky to find it in Europe on my recent trip to France.

The story is fun and quirky, with rules that get explained as the characters slowly figure out what’s happening. There are a few moments in the first two episodes where I felt embarrassed for Oh Yeon-joo, but the tense cliffhanger endings kept me watching. There are some heavy emotional moments and times when the story took a turn I wasn’t expecting.

The romance between the protagonists progressed at a good pace, though there was one moment where it seemed Kang had an unrealistic mood swing in Oh’s direction.

The special effects of going between worlds were really well done.

The show deals with free will, as the story begins with Kang just becoming aware that something is strange with his life. Learning he’s a comic book character, created to tell an entertaining story, creates turmoil in his life.

My only complaint with the show is that the writers (and characters who can effect reality in the comic book world) keep doing the same actions: providing a weapon and a getaway car. It seems that as they realized the potential of their ‘magic’, they could have done more interesting things to evade and outsmart the bad guys. Also, the English subtitles translated the web comic as 'cartoon', which I found inaccurate and distracting.

While it’s predominately a romance, this won’t be for everyone as the series also involves suicide and scenes of torture.

(Unfortunately this trailer I found for the show does not have English subtitles, but gives you an idea of the style & content of the show.)

Tuesday 15 November 2022

Video: Lo Pan Style

 Here's a double blast from the past. Wekejay did a parody video of PSY's "Gangnam Style" using Lo Pan from John Carpenter's Big Trouble in Little China. It is awesome! It's not a new video, though I only stumbled across it recently. James Hong, the actor that played Lo Pan in the film, even makes a cameo. 

Tuesday 8 November 2022

Book Review: The Embroidered Book by Kate Heartfield

Pros: fascinating period, clever interweaving of magic into history, interesting characters and events


After finding their murdered governess’s book of magic, archduchesses Maria Carolina (Charlotte) and Maria Antonia (Marie Antoinette) start teaching themselves spells. They hope this forbidden skill will help them in their upcoming political marriages to King Ferdinand I of Naples and the Dauphin of France respectively. One joins forces with a magical society that wants to control the use of magic, while the other is forced to hide her skill and work with rogues. Dreaming of how they’ll change the world for the better, politics, magic, and the whims of fate propel the sisters into the arms of revolution and a world very different from what they’d hoped to create.

Carefully following the events of history from 1767 to 1798, the author weaves magic into the story, using it to often explain natural disasters, political upheaval, and personal triumphs and defeats in the womens’ lives.

Magic requires 5 sacrifices, including a personal treasure, a memory, and an emotion (the love of a pet, for example). These sacrifices slowly leach the life and vivacity from the girls and the other practitioners around them. Magic itself varies between simple frivolous spells and truly dangerous spells.

It’s sad seeing how circumstances gradually change the sisters’ relationship with each other. Each one tries to do the best for their country, their family, and themselves, but that ultimately causes discord between them.

The author is kinder to Marie Antoinette and her actions and motivations than history has been. I didn’t know much about Naples or Charlotte’s reign, so I found her part of the story utterly fascinating. It’s clear the author did a lot of research on the people and time.

If you like alternate history and fantasy, this is an enjoyable read.

Friday 4 November 2022

Shout-Out: Silver Queendom by Dan Koboldt

Service at the Red Rooster Inn isn’t what you’d call "good," or even "adequate." Darin would be the first to say so, and he owns the place. Evie isn’t much of a barmaid; Kat’s home-brewed ale seems to grow less palatable with each new batch; and Seraphina’s service at the bar leaves much to be desired. As for the bouncer, Big Tom, well, everyone learns right quick to stay on his good side. 

They may be bad at running an inn, but they’re the best team of con artists in the Old Queendom. When a prospective client approaches Darin with a high-paying job, he knows he should refuse. But the job is boosting a shipment of priceless imperial dream wine, the most coveted and expensive drink in the world. And, thanks to a stretch of bad luck, he's in deep to The Dame, who oversees criminal enterprises in this part of the Queendom.

If they fail, they’re as good as dead, but if they succeed… well, it’s enough money to get square with the Dame and make all of their dreams come true. Plus, it's an option for Darin to stick it to the empress, who he has good reason to despise.

Then again, there’s a very good reason no one has ever stolen imperial dream wine...

Monday 31 October 2022

Books Received in October 2022

Happy Halloween to those who celebrate it!

This month I was privileged to receive a book from

Lost in the Moment and Found by Seanan McGuire - This is book 8 in McGuire's Wayward Children series and is set to publish on January 10th, 2023 (though publication dates have moved a lot the past year, so...). I've really enjoyed this series. I suspect most of us have dreamed at times of being able to leave this world for one that suits us better. This tells the stories of those who return. Several can be read as standalones, including this one, if the thought of reading 8 volumes is daunting. They're also novellas, so they're easier to whip through.

A young girl discovers an infinite variety of worlds in this standalone tale in the Hugo and Nebula Award-wining Wayward Children series from Seanan McGuire, Lost in the Moment and Found.

Welcome to the Shop Where the Lost Things Go.

If you ever lost a sock, you’ll find it here.
If you ever wondered about favorite toy from childhood... it’s probably sitting on a shelf in the back.

And the headphones that you swore this time you’d keep safe? You guessed it….

Antoinette has lost her father. Metaphorically. He’s not in the shop, and she’ll never see him again. But when Antsy finds herself lost (literally, this time), she discovers that however many doors open for her, leaving the Shop for good might not be as simple as it sounds.

And stepping through those doors exacts a price.

Tuesday 25 October 2022

Book Review: Becoming Crone by Lydia M. Hawke

Pros: interesting older protagonist, fun magical creatures


After a year of difficult changes, Claire is gifted a pendent for her 60th birthday that unlocks the gate of a witches hut and even more difficult changes.

This is book 1 of the Crone Wars. It’s unusual to find a female protagonist post-menopause, so reading about Claire’s life was kind of a treat and kind of an uncomfortable look at what’s coming for me. She’s an interesting protagonist who took pains to not rock the boat and now finds the boat has sailed without her. What do you do when your life gets upended at her age? Look for a new purpose.

The use of magick is limited as Claire’s being introduced to that part of the world. The creatures she faces were fun takes on myth. Especially the gnomes.

The book moves quickly and has a satisfying arc.

If you like urban fantasy and want something a little different, this is a good read.

Thursday 20 October 2022

Shout-Out: The Immortality Thief by Taran Hunt

Far off the edge of human existence, beside a dying star lies a nameless ship abandoned and hidden, lost for a millennium. But there are secrets there, terrible secrets that would change the fate of humanity, and eventually someone will come looking.

Refugee, criminal and linguist Sean Wren is made an offer he knows he can’t refuse: life in prison, “voluntary” military service – or salvaging data in a long-dead language from an abandoned ship filled with traps and monsters, just days before it’s destroyed in a supernova. Data connected to the Philosopher’s Stone experiments, into unlocking the secrets of immortality.

And he’s not the only one looking for the derelict ship. The Ministers, mysterious undying aliens that have ruled over humanity for centuries, want the data – as does The Republic, humanity’s last free government. And time is running out.

In the bowels of the derelict ship, surrounded by horrors and dead men, Sean slowly uncovers the truth of what happened on the ship, in its final days… and the terrible secret it’s hiding.

Tuesday 18 October 2022

NeoText flipbooks - Wereworld by Benjamin Percy and Francesco Francavilla

NeoText is a publisher of “illustrated short fiction and narrative non-fiction”. Their catalogue consists of true crime, pulp mysteries and SF noir. The stories are available on Amazon for a nominal fee, while a few are up in full on their website as free ‘flipbooks’.

If you want a good Halloween read, try Wereworld written by Benjamin Percy and illustrated by Francesco Francavilla.


“What if The Purge were supernatural? What if, instead of one night a year, the world went wild once a month?”


 You also can read it on their site or purchase it for the Kindle for less than $2.

Tuesday 11 October 2022

Shout-Out: Wish You Weren’t Here by Gabby Hutchinson Crouch

The Rook family run a little business: ghost hunting. And things have picked up recently. Something’s wrong. It’s been getting noticeably worse since, ooh, 2016?

Bad spirits are abroad, and right now they’re particularly around Coldbay Island, which isn’t even abroad, it’s only 20 miles from Skegness. The Rooks’ ‘quick call out’ to the island picks loose a thread that begins to unravel the whole place, and the world beyond.

Is this the apocalypse? This might be the apocalypse. Who knew it would kick off in an off-season seaside resort off the Lincolnshire coast? I’ll tell you who knew – Linda. She’s been feeling increasingly uneasy about the whole of the East Midlands since the 90s.

Tuesday 4 October 2022

Barren by Peter V. Brett

Pros: fast paced, realistic relationships

Cons: homophobic world which may be distressing for some to read

Selia Square’s time as speaker of Tibbet’s Brook hasn’t always been easy, and as the demons start to swarm mistakes from her past threaten to destroy the Brook.

This is a demon cycle novella set around the time of the events in the novel The Core. You’ll be lost if you haven’t read the novels.

I liked Selia, though I’ll admit that the large age gap between her and her lover did give me pause. The novella is strongly focused on her sexuality and how being a lesbian goes against the religious and moral codes of the peoples of the Brook. Though it has a happy ending, some readers may find the negative language and how an earlier affair ends distressing. The author creates his own terms so there are no slurs, but it’s still a world that doesn’t accept gay couples.

The interpersonal relationships were handled realistically. Grudges festered, past events haunted the present, the youth didn’t care much about what happened before they were born. The town and its borroughs felt real and lived in.

It’s a quick read that fleshes in what happened in Arlen’s home village after he gave them the fighting wards and helps his father redeem himself.

Friday 30 September 2022

Shout-Out: TimeLock by Howard & Peter Berk

With crime rampant in the near future, the President authorizes a controversial program: TimeLock, a cellular acceleration process that instantly ages prisoners the total number of years of their sentence. In other words-three strikes and you're old . . . very old.

Despite ongoing public outcries, two years later the program is up and running and crime is already on the decline. But what happens if you're innocent?

Falsely convicted of murder, 23-year-old Morgan Eberly is sentenced to be aged 40 years in a TimeLock capsule. When a riot interrupts his processing, Morgan--now 43 years old--manages to escape.

With powerful forces on his trail, Morgan enlists the help of Janine Price, the FBI agent who arrested him. Together, they investigate the murders of ex-prisoners who were transformed by TimeLock and soon discover why Morgan is certain to be next.

Can Morgan and Janine unlock the truth about TimeLock before it's too late?

Tuesday 27 September 2022

Vacation’s End

I’m back! I’m using the word ‘vacation’ a bit loosely. It was a very busy trip with little time to relax. I was away for 5 weeks doing a whirlwind tour of France, trying to photograph as many cathedrals (and a lot of other old buildings) as I could. I hit 42 cities in 36 days and walked so much my feet still hurt. Whew. It’s good to be back. I’ve spent the past 2 weeks trying to get back up to speed. Over the next while I’ll be going through the 20,000+ photos I took. I’ll post a small album here of interesting pieces of sculpture and stained glass.

I’d hoped to do some reading so I would have content to post when I returned, but things didn't work out that way. I did watch some TV shows, one of which I will be posting about. So I've scrambled a bit to finish some books. I’m hoping to get back to posting 1-2 times a week.

I’m also hoping to update the cathedral information pages I used on the trip so I can post a few of those to One of the reasons I took the trip was so I could add information to the pages and fix any errors before I posted them (I’m sure there will still be errors, there’s always something you miss, but hopefully there will be fewer errors).

Thursday 22 September 2022

Shout-Out: The Undertaking of Hart and Mercy by Megan Bannen

"A uniquely charming mixture of whimsy and the macabre that completely won me over. If you ever wished for an adult romance that felt like Howl's Moving Castle, THIS IS THAT BOOK."
—Helen Hoang, author of The Kiss Quotient

Hart is a marshal, tasked with patrolling the strange and magical wilds of Tanria. It’s an unforgiving job, and Hart’s got nothing but time to ponder his loneliness.

Mercy never has a moment to herself. She’s been single-handedly keeping Birdsall & Son Undertakers afloat in defiance of sullen jerks like Hart, who seems to have a gift for showing up right when her patience is thinnest.

After yet another exasperating run-in with Mercy, Hart finds himself penning a letter addressed simply to “A Friend”. Much to his surprise, an anonymous letter comes back in return, and a tentative friendship is born.

If only Hart knew he’s been baring his soul to the person who infuriates him most—Mercy. As the dangers from Tanria grow closer, so do the unlikely correspondents. But can their blossoming romance survive the fated discovery that their pen pals are their worst nightmares—each other?

Tuesday 16 August 2022

Blog Vacation

I'll be taking a month or so off for a blog vacation. I've got a few time consuming projects I've been working on and want to focus on those exclusively for a bit. I will be back with new content mid-September.

Friday 12 August 2022

Shout-Out: Sanctuary by Andi C. Buchanan

Morgan’s home is a sanctuary for ghosts.

The once-grand, now dilapidated old house they live in has become a refuge for their found family—Morgan's partner Araminta, an artist with excellent dress sense; Theo, a ten-year-old with an excess of energy; quiet telekinesthetic pensioner Denny—as well as the ghosts who live alongside them. All people who once needed sanctuary for their queer, neurodivergent selves.

Now they offer that safety to the dead as well as the living.

When a collection of ghosts trapped in old bottles are delivered to their door, something from the past is unleashed. A man who once collected ghosts - a man who should have died centuries before - suddenly has the house under his control. Morgan must trust their own abilities, and their hard-won sense of self, to save their home, their family, and the woman they love.

Tuesday 9 August 2022

Not a Review: From Age to Age by Edward Foley

This isn't a proper review because I only had time to read select chapters of interest.

When I did my degree in medieval studies I learned about languages, manuscripts, church architecture, drama, literature and philosophy. It shocks me now that not one professor suggested learning about Catholicism and how the church's liturgy affected architecture, etc. The first inkling I had that I'd missed something massively important was during my graduation mass (the first time I attended mass), and so many things suddenly clicked. Recently I've been trying to plug that gap in my knowledge and came across From Age to Age: How Christians Have Celebrated the Eucharist.

The book has an introduction followed by 7 chapters: 
1. Emerging Christianity: The First Century
2. The Domestic Church: 100-313
3. The Rise of the Roman Church: 313-750
4. Frankish Domination: 750-1073
5. The Prelude to Reform: 1073-1517
6. Revolt, Reform and Rigidity: 1517-1903
7. The Return to Change: 1903 and Beyond
The book concludes with a glossary and bibliography.

Within each chapter the author subdivides the information into categories for architecture, music, books, and vessels for administering the Eucharist.

The book explained terms I've seen for years without properly understanding them (for specific books and liturgical vessels in particular), as well as giving some indications as to how the space in a church was used over time (the development of the choir, the slow exclusion of the congregation from singing/participating).

If you don't know the difference between a missal and a breviary, or what a pyx is, this is an easy to read primer that covers the whole of Catholicism. It doesn't go into a lot of detail, but it gives a good foundation.

Sunday 31 July 2022

Books Received in July 2022

Many thanks to Angry Robot for sending me an advance copy of:

Antimatter Blues by Edward Ashton - This is the follow-up to Mickey7, which I really enjoyed. I'm curious to see where the series goes.

Edward Ashton's Antimatter Blues is the thrilling follow up to Mickey7 in which an expendable heads out to explore new terrain for human habitation.

Summer has come to Niflheim. The lichens are growing, the six-winged bat-things are chirping, and much to his own surprise, Mickey Barnes is still alive—that last part thanks almost entirely to the fact that Commander Marshall believes that the colony’s creeper neighbors are holding an antimatter bomb, and that Mickey is the only one who’s keeping them from using it. Mickey’s just another colonist now. Instead of cleaning out the reactor core, he spends his time these days cleaning out the rabbit hutches. It’s not a bad life.

It’s not going to last.

It may be sunny now, but winter is coming. The antimatter that fuels the colony is running low, and Marshall wants his bomb back. If Mickey agrees to retrieve it, he’ll be giving up the only thing that’s kept his head off of the chopping block. If he refuses, he might doom the entire colony. Meanwhile, the creepers have their own worries, and they’re not going to surrender the bomb without getting something in return. Once again, Mickey finds the fate of two species resting in his hands. If something goes wrong this time, though, he won’t be coming back.

Out March 14, 2023

Friday 29 July 2022

Shout-Out: Sons of Darkness by Gourav Mohanty


Bled dry by violent confrontations with the Magadhan Empire, the Mathuran Republic simmers on the brink of oblivion. The Republic’s Leaders, Krishna and Satyabhama, have put their plans in motion within and beyond its blood-soaked borders, to protect it from annihilation. But they will soon discover that neither gold nor alliances last forever.

They are, however, not the only players in this game.

Mati, Pirate-Princess of Kalinga, must mend her ways if she is to be a good wife. But old habits die hard, especially when one habitually uses murder to settle scores. Karna, the gifted son of a lowborn charioteer, hopes to bury his brutal past, but finds that life is not generous in offering second chances. The crippled hero-turned-torturer Shakuni struggles in the maze of daggers, that is politics, leaving little time for him to plot the revenge he craves.

Alongside a cast of sinister queens, naive kings, pious assassins and predatory priests, these dubious heroes will converge where the Son of Darkness is prophesied to rise and break the World, even as forgotten Gods prepare to play their hand.

Tuesday 19 July 2022

Book Review: The Fabric of Civilization: How Textiles Made the World by Virginia Postrel

The book consists of seven chapters with a preface and afterward. Each chapter deals with a particular part of fabric production: Fiber, Thread, Cloth, Dye, Traders, Consumers, and Innovators. Each chapter starts in ancient times and ends in modern ones, showing how things have changed over time.

Fabric is one of those things that is so ubiquitous and important for life, and yet is also so ordinary and cheap nowadays that we simply forget about it. The book emphasizes that for most of human history fabric was at the forefront of thought. The amount of time and effort that’s gone into clothing and cloth for other purposes (sails, table coverings, curtains, blankets, etc.) is astronomical.

The book begins with the idea that modern people look at ancient art dealing with women and see a spindle and think, ah, this is a domestic scene. But we forget that the spindle as a means of turning fibres into thread was the start of production, necessary for the home, yes, but also an important industry. Millions of women over the course of history have spun thread and made cloth, whether of flax, cotton, wool, or silk. It was constant work because cloth is always needed. The book also shows how spinning thread was undervalued, partly because it was women’s work, but also because the higher the cost of thread, the higher the cost of cloth. We do the same thing today, keeping the final cost of clothing low so the rich can buy a lot of it, even if that means exploiting the workers who sew the cloth into clothing.

My interests are in ancient and medieval history so I didn’t expect the modern sections to interest me, but they were also fascinating. Learning about how cotton plants were cross bread and a fluke mutation created the cotton plants bred today was neat.

This is an excellent book dealing with a topic that affects everyone, but to which we give entirely too little thought.

Thursday 14 July 2022

Shout-Out: Classic Monsters Unleashed edited by James Aquilone

Dracula, Frankenstein's Monster, the Bride of Frankenstein, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Dr. Moreau, the Headless Horseman, the Invisible Man, the Phantom of the Opera, the Wicked Witch of the West--they're all here, in this collection of horror short stories that reimagine, subvert, and pay homage to our favorite monsters and creatures.

Written by the biggest names in the genre--including Joe R. Lansdale, F. Paul Wilson, Jonathan Maberry, Ramsey Campbell, Lisa Morton, Owl Goingback, Richard Christian Matheson, Seanan McGuire, Maurice Broaddus, Dacre Stoker, Linda D. Addison, Alessandro Manzetti, Tim Waggoner, John Palisano, Mercedes M. Yardley, Lucy A. Snyder, Gary A. Braunbeck, Rena Mason, and Monique Snyman.

And monstrously illustrated by Colton Worley and Mister Sam Shearon.

Tuesday 5 July 2022

Book Review: For the Wolf by Hannah Whitten

Pros: interesting retelling of several fairy tales, compelling characters, good worldbuilding, fun romance

Cons: constant tension, repetitive danger

Redarys is the second daughter born to Valleyda’s royal family. The first daughter is for the throne, the second is for the wolf. After she enters the Wilderwood Red discovers the stories she’s grown up with are mostly true but that the Wolf is not the monster she expected. Her twin sister Neverah resolves to bring Red back, not realizing that destroying the forest will destroy her sister and unleash the monstrous shadows it holds captive.

Though the title and cover make it seem like a retelling of Red Riding Hood, the book is actually more Beauty and the Beast. It’s a very loose adaptation with a lot of unexpected twists and a larger underlying plot.

The worldbuilding was good, with several nations and mentions of trade and religion. The Wilderwood was interesting in how it trapped people inside and how it interacted with the Wolves.

I loved the slow building romance between Red and Eammon. It felt very organic, and though I did wish they were more open with each other their various traumas made it hard for them to trust and risk losing what they’d gained. Their interludes created some needed breaks to the tense atmosphere.

The story doesn’t slowly build tension, every time something bad happens it’s an immediate 10 on the tension scale. I found the book somewhat exhausting as a result of it’s flipping between 0 and 10 so often and had to read the book in bits and pieces.

The dangers were fairly repetitive with the Wolves dealing with the same things over and over again.

The ending paves the way for the sequel with some major events still needing resolution.

Tuesday 28 June 2022

Book Review: A History of Herbalism: Cure, Cook, and Conjure by Emma Kay

The book starts with an introduction that lists herbs for various purposes and then takes you on a brief world history tour of herbalism, starting with the Greeks and Chinese. Throughout the book examples of how various herbs are used are employed from sources from multiple countries.

There are three chapters. Chapter 1 goes over specific British herbalists, followed by information on those who worked in adjacent fields (sellers, hospitals, gardens, illustrators). Chapter 2 deals with magic and medicine, giving individual A-Z lists for both topics. Each listing mentions an anecdote or usage from a historic source. The book isn’t being comprehensive, there are only a few usages per herb, but it’s a great compilation that’s enlightening without being boring. Chapter 3 is on how herbs have been used in cooking. Here the author translates a number of interesting recipes. Be aware, with a few exceptions these are direct historical translations, meaning there are no measurements, so unless you’re used to using old cookbooks or are a trained chef, you’ll have a lot of experimentation ahead of you if you decide to make one of these recipes. The recipes are organized by topic, with most of them employing multiple herbs.

I was impressed with the breadth of sources Kay used. I learned about quite a few interesting British and medieval herbals (some of which you can find online as they are out of copyright), as well as herbs and herbals from other countries (including Nigeria, Japan, and the Aztec empire). I was impressed by the number of countries with written herbals predating the modern period, and with the author’s including recipes and herbal usages from so many of them.

The book ends with substantial notes and a bibliography.

There are a decent number of black and white photographs to accompany the text.

The text often jumps from one herb or topic to another with little to no transition, which I found delightful as it maintained interest when reading the book in its entirety, though some might find it disorienting.

This is a great book. It tackles a broad topic and has done an excellent job of maintaining interest while being enlightening. Even if you’ve read several books on herbs and herbals you’ll find something new here.

Out in the UK on June 30th, later (different sites show different release dates) in other countries.

Friday 17 June 2022

Gollancz Open Submission Call for Unagented Authors

From their press release:

*We are currently open to unagented novel submissions until 30th June 2022*

Whether you're writing epic space opera or smutty paranormal romance, dystopian fiction or psychological horror, we'd love to hear from you!

Our titles include Andrzej Sapkowski’s The Witcher series, Joe Hill’s NOS4A2, Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn series, Kristin Cashore’s Graceling Realm, and many more. We love everything fantastical and are excited to read wherever your imagination takes you.

Anyone with a completed fantasy, science fiction or horror novel that does not have representation with a literary agency and has not previously been published in the UK is welcome to apply.


Please send in your unagented submissions between 1st June 2022, (00:00 BST) until 30th June 2022, (23:59 BST) to

In your email, please include:
Your full-length book attached as a .pdf or Word .doc/ .docx

Up to a 1,000 word synopsis in the body of the email, including what genre your story falls within (feel free to refer to currently published titles too).

100 words about yourself in the body of the email.

Your email address.

Should you have any further queries please contact us at
For more information on what we publish, check out our website and social channels.

Thursday 16 June 2022

Shout-Out: Rise of the Vicious Princess by C. J. Redwine

The first in a YA political fantasy duology about a fierce princess determined to bring lasting peace to her kingdom regardless of the cost to her heart—from C.J. Redwine, the author of the Defiance series and the New York Times bestselling Ravenspire series. Perfect for fans of These Violent Delights, And I Darken, and Ash Princess.

Princess Charis Willowthorn is the dutiful sword of Calera. Raised to be ruthless and cunning, her only goal is to hold her war-torn kingdom together long enough to find a path toward peace with their ancient foe Montevallo, even if the cost is her own heart.

When violence erupts in the castle itself, nearly killing the queen, Charis must assume her mother’s duties and manage both the war and her kingdom. But as an unseen enemy begins sinking Calera’s ships, Charis realizes a threat much greater than Montevallo is coming for her people. So she forms a plan.

By day, she is Calera’s formidable princess intent on forging an alliance with Montevallo. By night, she disguises herself as a smuggler and roams the sea with a trusted group of loyalists, hunting for their new enemies. And through it all, she accidentally falls in love with the wrong boy.

But her enemies are much closer than Charis realizes, and her heart isn’t the only thing she has left to lose.

Tuesday 14 June 2022

Book Review: A Song With Teeth by T. Frohock

This is the third novel in the series, and though they are designed so you can read each book independently, you do get more out of the by reading them in order as the characters and some story arcs continue from earlier books. The author does include a quick spoiler free synopsis of prior books if you do decide to skip ahead. You can find my reviews of the previous novellas and books here:

Los Nefilim (novella collection)
Where Oblivion Lies
Carved From Stone and Dream

Pros: complex worldbuilding, wonderful family relationships, interesting characters


It’s 1943 and the Nazi’s have occupied France. Los Nefilim lost the Spanish civil war and are helping with the French resistance. Diago is acting as a double agent with his daimon-kin and running several lines of spies. Ysabel is sent to retrieve important manuscript pages that carry parts of a spell that will help the allies in their planned invasion. Meanwhile Guillermo’s brother is consolidating his power as the new leader of Die Nefilim.

It’s a slow-burn spy novel that gives each character several unforseen twists to their story.

The background is complex and there is some terminology you need to learn (there’s a glossary at the back to help you out). The books deal with angels, daimons, and nefilim (or nephilim) the offspring of humans and angels/daimons.

While there are some disturbing scenes, they’re short and important to the story, like Nico’s time at a concentration camp.

It feels rare to see loving relationships in SF/F so to get two in this series was wonderful. Diago and Miquel have something special. They’re such good parents and handle the trials they’re dealt with love and compassion. Similarly Guillermo and Juanita also have a great relationship, and have raised Ysabel to be a good leader. Having the kids reflect on what their parents taught them about handling fear and acting calm under pressure was really cool.

This is a great series. It can be hard to take all at once (there’s one off page rape that’s central to the story and several on page scenes of torture), but it’s also got some brilliant family love (both straight and queer). If you’re looking for strong relationships and interesting spy stories in a historical setting, pick these up.

Thursday 9 June 2022

Shout-Out: The Embroidered Book by Kate Heartfield

‘Power is not something you are given. Power is something you take. When you are a woman, it is a little more difficult, that’s all’

1768. Charlotte, daughter of the Habsburg Empress, arrives in Naples to marry a man she has never met. Her sister Antoine is sent to France, and in the mirrored corridors of Versailles they rename her Marie Antoinette.

The sisters are alone, but they are not powerless. When they were only children, they discovered a book of spells – spells that work, with dark and unpredictable consequences.

In a time of vicious court politics, of discovery and dizzying change, they use the book to take control of their lives.

But every spell requires a sacrifice. And as love between the sisters turns to rivalry, they will send Europe spiralling into revolution.

Brimming with romance, betrayal, and enchantment, The Embroidered Book reimagines a dazzling period of history as you have never seen it before.

Tuesday 7 June 2022

Movie Review: Dawn of the Dead (1978)

Directed by George Romero
IMDb listing

Pros: good acting, political commentary, tense moments

Cons: some gore (but very minor), violence

The dead walk the earth and cities are trying to mitigate their spread. But some people doubt what's going on and don't want to hand over their departed loved ones.

After a harrowing escape from an increasingly overrun city, four people take refuge in an abandoned mall.

I was impressed by Night of the Living Dead, which I watched a few years ago and wanted to continue the series. And this film holds up shockingly well. There were a few scenes I might have thought unrealistic or over the top before living through the Covid pandemic. Now, it’s impressive how true to life the film is.

The story does a good job of setting up the 4 protagonists. You watch them in harrowing circumstances, in downtime, and slowly falling apart due to the constant stress. The actors are great.

I watched the ‘complete cut’, which apparently added back some character development scenes and gore to the theatrical version. There was some gore, but only once scene (towards the end of the film) seemed gratuitous. Though it was 2 1/2 hours long it never really dragged. There were some tense moments, some subversions to expectations, and some genuinely sweet moments when things were calm.

The film made some very cutting remarks about politics and racism at the time (and our current time, as it turns out). I loved that one of the protagonists was a black man who was by far the most competent of the bunch. I also liked that the woman refused to be ‘den mother’ to the guys.

The special effects were basically just make-up and done very well. There is a lot of violence, especially at the beginning and end of the film.

It’s a good movie. It’s great when older stuff holds up well, though a bit sad we haven’t progressed much as a society from the lessons it was trying to teach.

Friday 3 June 2022

Cathedral Information Pages going up on

The first information page has been posted on It’s a 2 page spread on Notre-Dame de Laon Cathedral in France. You can find it here.

I decided to go with as anyone can download these information pages from the site without an account (though an account is needed for other uses, like borrowing books).

I’ve set the license for attribution - non-commercial.

My idea is to post 1 or 2 of these a week on Monday and/or Friday depending on how busy I am and how much work that weeks page(s) require.

My page on Sainte-Chapelle in Paris is ready to go up on Monday. You can find all of my pages by looking up Strider66 and ticking off the 'account' box on the left.

Tuesday 31 May 2022

Books Received in May 2022

 Many Thanks to Pen & Sword for sending me review copy of the following:

A History of Herbalism: Cure, Cook and Conjure by Emma Kay - This is a great book with a lot of interesting tidbits of knowledge. The book covers a range of topics regarding herbs. My review will be posted on June 30th, when it releases in the UK. I've seen release dates in Canada for August 30th (Amazon) and September 13th (Indigo). Given supply chain issues, I'm not sure which date is correct.

Food historian Emma Kay tells the story of our centuries-old relationship with herbs. From herbalists of old to contemporary cooking, this book reveals the magical and medicinal properties of your favourite plants in colourful, compelling detail.

At one time, every village in Britain had a herbalist. A History of Herbalism investigates the lives of women and men who used herbs to administer treatment and knew the benefit of each. Meet Dr Richard Shephard of Preston, who cultivated angelica on his estate in the eighteenth century for the sick and injured; or Nicholas Culpeper, a botanist who catalogued the pharmaceutical benefits of herbs for early literary society.

But herbs were not only medicinal. Countless cultures and beliefs as far back as prehistoric times incorporated herbs into their practices: paganism, witchcraft, religion and even astrology. Take a walk through a medieval ‘physick’ garden, or Early Britain, and learn the ancient rituals to fend off evil powers, protect or bewitch or even attract a lover.

The wake of modern medicine saw a shift away from herbal treatments, with rituals and spells shrouded with superstition as the years wore on. The author reveals how herbs became more culinary rather than medicinal including accounts of recent trends for herbal remedies as lockdown and the pandemic leads us to focus more on our health and wellbeing.

Monday 30 May 2022

Medieval Trip / Site Information Pages

In 2015 I went to Paris. Before leaving for my trip I did detailed information pages for the cathedrals I planned to visit. These had floor plans, diagrams of the west facades with labelled sculptures, interesting features to see inside, and short historical sketches.

My idea was to better know the site and the sculpture, stained glass, and frescos at each site to look for. I hate coming back from a trip and realizing I missed seeing something important.

Over the years I’ve gotten better with the technology (I do these in Inkscape) and started doing new pages for a trip planned in 2020. That trip’s been postponed, which means I’ve had more time than expected to make these information sheets. And the longer it’s been postponed, the more sites I’ve learned about and want to visit, and the more sites I've done.

I now have about 60 sites/cities completed with more in the works (though I've not been making as many so far this year). The earlier ones are for specific buildings only, generally 1 side for the inside, and 1 side for the outside. More recently I’ve started adding detailed notes for less important (to me) sites and information to help with the trip I’ve planned (so, with added maps, floor plans of museums, city history, city crests/flags etc).

Also, there are some blanks and question marks where I’d planned to fill in information after visiting the sites. Items where there are no good images or complete information online and I’d hoped to learn who the figures are when I visited in person. For example, the dome of the Padova baptistry has scenes of Genesis. I don’t know where the scenes are exactly because I haven’t been able to find detailed enough photos. I hoped to take my own. In the meantime, that section of my diagram simply has ‘Genesis stories’ and ’fill in’. So I’d need to make it clear where information is missing and have version number so people know if a page has been updated. In fact, I would love it if someone had good photos of those areas or knew the placements could share that with me.

I made these for myself, but as someone who has spent hours pouring over photos online to see what sculpture is in this corner and what painting is on that wall, I understand the pages I’ve done have usefulness outside of myself. I would love to share these with a wider audience and introduce people to the sources I’ve used (there are some incredible resources online) and hopefully save you the time & effort I’ve spent. ‘Why reinvent the wheel?’ as my father used to say.

I’m ok with sharing the pages as they currently are with a small audience, but if I share them with a wider audience there are changes I would have to make. For one, I’ve used copyrighted images that I would have to remove. Second, I’d want to look over the notes, make sure there are no spelling errors or contractions that others might not be able to parse. I would also make sure that all my sources are listed.

I tried posting the pdfs to my blog in the past but blogger won’t allow the format. I just discovered that google docs does. I’m willing to post my pages to google docs and make them freely available. (If someone knows a better free site, I'm all ears.) I could post 1/week or so until they’re all up. I have a few questions for those interested first though. For people who haven’t seen the pages, I’m including my pages for Padova/Padua below so you can give feedback.

Since I would have to edit these for 'publication' anyway…

1) Would you prefer one monument per page? For example, I have St Anthony’s Church on the same page as the Padova Bapitstry. It’s kind of confusing with small font. Some pages have even more monuments. I could separate the monuments and do 1 or 2 per page.

2) Do you like the maps? My thought was to use the pages in situ. But if I take the maps out there would be more room for information at a larger font.

3) Any other suggestions?

I’m sure I’m forgetting to mention something here so this may get updated.
ETA -> After some consideration I've decided that google docs is a bad choice as it requires people to have a link in order to find the pages, and there's a limit to how much I can upload before I need to start deleting pages. So I've decided to post the pages to I'll post more when the first page is up this Friday.